Sheffield Steelers: What we have learned about the team so far

We're four matches into the new Elite League ice hockey season and it's way too early to speculate who is going to be top of the pile come next April.

Friday, 8th October 2021, 12:04 pm
Sheffield Steelers goalie Barry Brust. Picture: Hayley Roberts

Sheffield's games in the Challenge Cup and the regular EIHL programme have given some insights though, along with plenty of reasons for optimism among Steelers' Orange Army.

New players, Evan Mosey and Justin Hodgman, in particular, have shone.

Face offs and plays down the centre have improved on last year.

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There is no hint of complacency among players like Marco Vallerand, who are charged up to play better week by week.

For every goal conceded, they score two.

Of course, plenty of puzzles remain unanswered.

The biggest one relates to their biggest player - Steelers' meaty-framed number-one goaltender Barry Brust.

So what do we know so far?

First, anybody who gets to play 175 times in the KHL and 11 times in the NHL must have a skill-set far greater than your average player.

His pedigree, frankly, is impeccable.

But when the lockdown reduced Brust's appearances to 29 games with Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia (2019-20) his days looked numbered.

The 'Elite Prospects' network prematurely classified him as retired.

But Aaron Fox, the netminder's manager in 2014-15 at Medvescak Zagreb, persuaded him Sheffield was the place to be.

Fox likes veteran goalies. Brust is 38 years old and follows in the footsteps of Tomas Duba, who is 40.

While goalie expectations are always high - having the best goalie in the League takes you a long way towards winning it - it is fair to say it's not been plain sailing so far for the man from Swan River, Manitoba.

He didn't have the benefit of pre-season training or the two exhibition matches against Nottingham Panthers - visa issues held him back over the pond.

At that point, Fox felt his hand had been forced and he brought in Slovenian stopper Rok Stojanovic. His recruitment was for a "trial" period and it was stated that if he works wonders in an orange top, he might stay on.

However, with Brust now in the country, most fans had still expected him to lead Steelers out at Manchester Storm on September 25.

He didn't and was also on the sidelines the following night against Cardiff Devils.

Fox cited Brust's lack of match action, before finally picking him for the home game against Storm on October 2.

He lasted just two periods of the first weekend game, Fox explaining the player had suffered cramp. Brust didn't play last Sunday in Coventry Blaze.

The fans, not party to what goes on at training, and perhaps comforted by the coach's explanation that Brust normally "plays heavy," have not seen enough of the 6ft 2ins 'tender to assess him.

Hopefully, on Saturday night, we'll all be better informed and he'll hit the ice at home to Guildford Flames.

If he does well, feels good, then he might even get the nod for the return match in Surrey on Sunday.

That's the best possible scenario. And if it happens we will all feel a little more comfortable about Sheffield's title chances for 2021-22.